future of design

Spring 2019


Design as a profession is in a state of transition. We interviewed and read the works of leaders in the field to carve out a future for designers and propose a skill set for them to adopt. This work culminated in a booklet to be given to the next cohort of Experience Design students at Northeastern University.


Researcher | Interviewer | Strategist | Organizer

Partners: Jeremy Brodeur | Estefania Ciliotta | Sylvia Zepeda


In the Experience Design graduate program at Northeastern University, the Research Methods for Design course investigated systems in transition. Jeremy, Estefania, Sylvia, and I were inspired to study the field of design and construct a vision of the future for designers to work toward.


Grounded Theory | Focused Interviews | Literature Review


Otter | InDesign

To download the full report, click here


Our team began by identifying the voices in the conversation on the future of design and reviewing their work. Of those whose work we reviewed, we scheduled interviews with Tucker Viemeister, Valerie Fletcher, Paul Pangaro, and Paul Kahn. Additionally, we were able to exchange emails with Don Norman and Arturo Escobar.

We compiled all of our research and distilled our findings into quotes from the individuals we researched. We sorted those quotes into categories, such as Skills Needed for Future Designers, How Design Used to Be, and How to Work with Complex Problems. What emerged from this sorting was a conversation on how design arrived at its current situation, what skills are important for the future, but not necessarily a path for design to take in the future.

The quotes from our research sorted into categories.

We decided to approach the question of how design is to proceed from a systems perspective, heavily influenced by Donella Meadows' Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. Meadows identifies the paradigm as the most crucial part of the system. The paradigm that we found currently drives the field of design is the one that characterizes the global economy within which the field exists. The global economy is focused on linear growth without consideration for the problems it causes. It is from this paradigm that companies have low accountability for their actions and that disciplines fail to collaborate.

We found that those we researched were all pointing to the need for a paradigm shift. Paul Pangaro views language as the manifestation of a paradigm within an organization, thus it is by designing for new language that a paradigm shift can occur. Our systems understanding was thus informed by relationships defined by conversation and a need for those within the system to continue to question the language.

An early attempt to model the field of design as a system.

Our final proposal was that designers within the system that is the design field (which is itself within the system of the global economy), can shift the paradigm if themselves equipped with the skills to see the world in a new way and have the conversations that lead to new language. The three most important skills to do that were systems literacy, generalist knowledge, and human-centered principles.

An example of how a new skill at the designer level can shift the paradigm.

To download the full report, click here